Water use in smokers

Discussion in 'Electric Smokers' started by emtee, Dec 6, 2007.

  1. emtee

    emtee Fire Starter

    OK, so I’m new here, but I may be opening a proverbial can of worms. Not really my intention, but I’m just interested in your thoughts.

    Most of us have been smoking meats and fish for many years, and we certainly have our favorite recipes and methods. My "can-o-worms" involves the use of water during the smoke. I can tell by lurking around that some of this group thinks that water makes little or no difference in flavors and/ or moisture levels in foods. It seems to be a consensus that water is primarily, if not totally, a method of stabilizing temperatures. While I agree to a certain extent that almost any large mass will do exactly that, I have done a few experiments that I believe prove, at least to me, that water does indeed play an important part in flavoring certain recipes. I have found that water vapor and smoke molecules will join while rising and will adhere much better to the food being smoked. I have cooked several of the same items with and without water, and have repeatedly found that damp smoke will produce a much smokier flavor- so much so that indeed for items that require light smoking, I omit the water. Soaked chips will create a certain amount of this damp smoke, but once the chips are dried by the element (rather quickly), the smoke is again quite dry. Sand will certainly stabilize the chamber temperature, but will not bring anything else to the party.

    My findings may impart a debate, but I am posting this only as a suggestive thread. I have had vastly different results with and without water for the same cut of meat. Now as far as keeping the meat moist, I agree that temperatures are far more critical than water. In this case, I believe the consensus to be correct in the assumption that a water pan has little effect on overall moisture levels.

    Anyway, I’d be interested in your thoughts about the water issue. I feel strongly enough about it to have incorporated a separate controllable water evaporator on my homemade rig (see my homemade electric rig thread). And I assure you I can tell a hell of a difference with and without water vapor.

    So what do you all say?
  2. fatback joe

    fatback joe Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    I say more power to you........if you want to use water, go right ahead. [​IMG]
  3. emtee

    emtee Fire Starter

    I will probably continue to use water. But maybe the real question is- Am I nuts? Is it a waste of time to use water in YOUR opinion (and why)?
  4. richtee

    richtee Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    I'm sure the moisture thing in the smoke affects certain variables during a smoking session. I have not done a qualitative analysis to determining it's effects, however. I WILL say that adding beer, wine and flavorings to the water pan affects things very little. Perhaps some of the real aromatic spices would be somewhat effective, but mostly that practice is a waste.
  5. fatback joe

    fatback joe Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    I don't use water.

    Never really have, I messed around with it a couple of times and could not tell where it made any difference in the end result...........I will admit my testing was not thorough or scientific, but it was good enough for me.

    When I have read some of the explanations out there in cyberworld, it kind of back up my thoughts........but I was biased going into it.

    Maybe some of it depends on the type of smoker you are using..........humidity in the air when you are cooking.............I don't know..........but using a Stumps in Florida........you don't need no stinking water. LOL

    If it works for you and you see a difference in the end product then go for it.
  6. richoso1

    richoso1 Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    The only time I notice a flavoring enhancement from liquid is when I sit a whole chick in a deep dish of beer. It gives the outer portion of the chick a real flavor, more than if I just used a beer can/butt setup. I haven't really noticed much difference with any other liquids. Just my findings... not a concrete fact.
  7. bigarm's smokin

    bigarm's smokin Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    I agree with Joe and Rich, I see no difference. However, every smoke is unique, many different factors come into play,even with the same smoker at the same location, different days, and conditions, affect the end result, do whatever works best for YOU.
  8. flyin'illini

    flyin'illini Smoking Fanatic SMF Premier Member

    Thanks for bringing this up. Since I am noob, my basic concern with the ECB electric is the use of water above an electric appliance. Not exactly being preventative on the safety side.
  9. flash

    flash Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Well, I can say that water does add SOME moisture to the meats and it does help cook the meat (somewhat), but humidity levels are more important in my eye. In Florida, there is hardly any reason for water to be used, unless Humidity levels fall beneath 70%. You may have to spray with some Apple juice or lemon oil at times. Recently I did another Chuck Roast, using sand this time and it was not able to be pulled like the last one I did with water in the pan. (still tasty though) Of course, the humidity levels were low and around 60% unlike the last time when it was over 80%. Using sand does several things, more stable temps than water and higher temps for the smoker. Water evaporation creates an unstable platform over long smokes in particular. As to flavor. I have added wine and cut apples and lemons to my water pan before and yes, I did pick up the flavor from the meat, but it had to be set right over the water for it to work it seemed.
  10. ds7662

    ds7662 Smoking Fanatic OTBS Member

    I to generally add cut apples to the water in my pan and it adds real flavor. As far as the other things go I have noticed very little difference in using water.
  11. walking dude

    walking dude Smoking Guru SMF Premier Member

    GREAT topic dude.....and yeah.........this topic and been hashed and rehashed over and over.......BUT, i like you take on things......abit of a experiment.......

    i am assuming (sometimes a bad thing to do), that your smoker is either ecb or summin similar.....verticle water smoker..........

    i have used water for over 20 years..........but here recently, i seen the possiblity of using sand......well i took this one step further and used river rocks, bout half a fist size........to me, it seemed doing this, the meat cooked faster........BUT this could just of been the particular cut of meat.....so i went back to water.........no clue why..........but been using it, like i said, over 20 years........so i am just used to it......
  12. rip

    rip Smoking Fanatic

    I use water in my pan everytime, but then I have a gas smoker. I think with the gas heat you need the water.
  13. Here are two shots of the remote thermometer from this weekends adventure in smoking.

    The higher temp pic was taken without using the water bowl. I was cooking breaded wings and this recipe called for cooking without the bowl.

    The second pic was cooking ribs, with the water bowl.

    As you can see, the temps without the bowl were higher. Temps here in CT were in the lower 30's for both smokes.

    Just some random observations. I'm too new at this to make any judgments at this point. [​IMG]
  14. bbq bubba

    bbq bubba Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    As you can see, the temps without the bowl were higher. Temps here in CT were in the lower 30's for both smokes.

    I don't know what kind of smoker you have but if you remove the water pan, your cookin over direct heat, therefor you'll have a higher temp![​IMG]
  15. mossymo

    mossymo Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    I am a water pan user. I do not know why, just always have been. I know when I smoke sausage and have the door open on my propane smoker I will toss a few handfulls of snow into the chip pan (just habit). Does moisture in the smoker give meat a little tenderization?
  16. peculiarmike

    peculiarmike Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Here goes again.
    The water pan is nothing more than a barrier between the HOT fire (about 1400°F) and what you are cooking "low and slow". Without it you would be GRILLING over direct heat. Water, sand, rocks, your choice - but it has to be there if you are smoking.
    Does it "add moisture"? How? How could the moisture (steam or humidity) get inside meat? Meat isn't a sponge. Meat comes with all the moisture inside it will ever have, you can't "add moisture" using a water pan. With high humidity inside the smoker it may prevent some evaporation from the meat. And some of the hot water vapor may condense on the cooler meat during the first hour or so while it is still coming up to smoker temperature.
    You CAN inject marinades, etc.
    How long and at what temperature you cook determines if the result is moist or dry. Overcook and it will be dry and tough.
    And thems the facts. [​IMG]
  17. emtee

    emtee Fire Starter

    I appreciate all your responses. One thing I might point out is that my "experiment" consisted of nothing more than taste tests, although with the same meat cuts, the same wood type, and identical ambient conditions. Therefore, no real hard scientific data was collected or analized as was done by some of you. And, since taste is absolutely subjective, my findings could have been inacurate, or even wrong.

    One advantage I have over temperature control is an extremely insulated chamber with extremely acurate temperature controllers. The chamber controller is configured to anticipate and overlap it's on/ off control, so my chamber temperatures never vary more than two degrees F + or-, unless I open the doors. That's better than my home oven.

    I also do not use a bulk water "container". The water unit in the smoke chamber is mearly an evaporator, reaching only around 180 degrees F, and it only hold a few ounces of water at a time between recharges. It is designed to gently mix smoke and vapor through the stack and into the cooking chamber- actually like a glorified humidifier.

    I may be psycho, but I think it helps impart a smokier flavor for most items that I smoke. I don't use water at all when smoking nuts and the like (I have a home concocted butt kicker recipe for sweet hot pecan halves). Besides, it's just another switch, controller and lighting array for my "you have to be an engineer to run this" rig. And my friends think I'm a friggin genius (can you say snow job?). [​IMG]
  18. bigarm's smokin

    bigarm's smokin Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    I have a home concocted butt kicker recipe for sweet hot pecan halves
    Is that something you would be willing to share? [​IMG]

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